Forgotten Pets: The World Of Adopt Don’t Shop
Dog feces covered floor.
Most of it has been there for months for all to see.
The defecation that was once splattered along the crates had turned into black mold and raw the miasma that releases into the air once approached would raise everyone’s hair on their nostrils who dared to come close. One can tiptoe through the caked up pet fur and excretion that came built up from years of neglect. They found that there were animals that were living in these crates. Alive but barely.
Most puppy mills are held within seemly normal looking homes. The kind of homes that a passersby wouldn’t look twice at if he or she didn’t know that among the casualness of the exterior of the home, cruelty lived among the residence. If one were to walk inside that home, one will usually be greeted with the cries of pets coming from underground– usually the basement. Down there, dozens of pets are typically kept in wire cages or crates that allows little light to poke in. The stacks of feces that drop down from the cages to the ground are often picked up and eaten by the accompanying rodents that occupy the pets in the darkness. The uric acid, from urine that was built-up, burned their skin and paws to the point where blotches of fur is missing from the animals. Sometimes the cages are stacked on top of each other, and it can be hard to tell which animal is dead or unfortunately still suffering.
It is estimated that approximately 6.5 million unwanted pets. are brought in to animal shelters across the country every year. Of those, most have been bred from puppy mills.
The state of most animal shelters across the United States paints a sad reality of how easy it is for a pet to be disposable. Although there’s been a decline in the number of pets entering shelters over the past decade, there are still many pets killed each year due to overpopulation, understaffed shelters and a lack of adoption. It is estimated that over 85 million families across the United States own at least one pet and of that, only 30 percent of those pets come from shelters or rescue groups. With over an estimated 10,000 puppy mills in the United States and over two million pets being killed every year, some people are starting to realize what’s at stake.
“Our shelters simply cannot handle the volume that is coming in,” says Abbe Harris from Muddy Paws Rescue, a New York City 501c3 nonprofit dog recuse center that adopts and rescue dogs from across the city along with hosting different events across the city to help spread awareness of animal rescue.
“We help our open intake shelters, who are obligated to welcome every animal that comes through their doors and alleviate their volume wherever possible. Some shelters see over 30,000 animals come in a year, and if Muddy Paws Rescue can help to place animals into loving homes, we can in turn save more lives.”
While the majority of households contains at least one pet, only a fraction of these pets come from adoption centers or local rescue organizations. The majority of people purchase their pets from stores or breeders. Due to the high demand for domesticated pets, there have been an increasing number of animals that are bred and sent to retail pet stores. From this, many welfare issues exist that have proved to cause danger to the quality of the animal’s life. Issues such as the lack of veterinary care, frequent food and water, housing, and proper sanitation within these shops have been a hot topic for years.
There is currently no federal laws which regulates the care animals receive while in pet stores. Laws that do address the care of these animals, are regulated by state laws and there are only 35 states which have regulations set on pet stores. However, the states who set these regulations usually limit the requirements to making sure the cages the animals are being housed in are big enough for the animal to turn around without being overly confined. With even greater concern, only sixteen states have laws requiring veterinary care in pet stores, with none of them requiring these practices to be used on a constant basis. In addition, less than half of all states require pet stores to run under a permit.
However, the most troublesome concern that these shops bring is source of where these animals are being brought in from. The Humane Society of the United States strongly believes that the majority of pets that are sold at pet stores are brought in from puppy mills and backyard breeders located throughout the country.
Puppy mills and backyard breeders are animal breeding operations that produce mass numbers of pets to be sold throughout the country. These pets are shipped in crates through vans across the country to different stores who have purchased them. There have been many issues concerned with puppy mills, including overcrowding of these pets in cages, lack of veterinary care, and the killing of deformed animals. These same backyard breeders also sell pets such as dogs and cats to individual sellers across the country.
Pets that have been bred through backyard breeders have been known to carry many diseases that are not only dangerous to other animals, but to the humans who come in contact with them. One of the many diseases found in these animals are Campylobacter infection. this infection is acquired by drinking contaminated fluids, or handling infected animal feces.
From 2007‐2011, the Humane Society reported over 2,479 puppy buyer complaints all coming from puppy mills. The majority of those complaints were about sick puppies possibly carrying infections. There have been at least 30 reported cases of Campylobacter infection in New York State, along with at least one person in Connecticut, according to the CDC.
Other illnesses found in puppy mills, according to humanesociety.org, include:
- Intestinal parasites such as worms, giardia, and coccidia
- Respiratory issues such as bronchial infections and pneumonia
- Ear issues such as infections and mites
- Skin disorders such as mange
- Urinary infections and bladder issues
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
Many pet owners who find these illnesses in their pets usually bring them back to the store that they were first purchased from, often due to the fact that they are unable to afford proper veterinary care. However, due to the lack of resources many of these stores have in terms of veterinary care, many shops are known to turn these pets away which leads to many owners sending these pets to local shelters or abandoning them on the streets. The majority of these animals die due to lack of medical care or because they were left abandoned on the streets. Even though there are hundreds of thousands of pets homeless and abandoned in the streets, there are very few state funded resources available to help care for them.
Cynthia Rodriguez, a 29-year-old single mother with a daughter and another one the way, purchased her puppy, Milo, from a local breeder when he was just two weeks old as a family pet. Rodriguez found the breeder through Facebook and decided to message her. Within three minutes the breeder responded and agreed to let her purchase one of her pets.
“I thought there would be more of a process [of purchasing],” says Rodriguez, who was stunned when she was given the green light for a dog. “There wasn’t any papers or identification that was requested… she just said sure take your pick!”
As per the breeders’ orders, Rodriguez was instructed to pick out the dog she wanted through a series of photos sent through text message. Once she made up her mind of the dog she wanted, she needed to send back the same photo with a drawn circle over her choice so the dog could be put on hold. After that process was done, Rodriguez had 24 hours to come to the breeders’ home, identify the dog she wanted, pay and then leave the premises.
“I didn’t want to lead to any conclusion prematurely,” she said. “But everything seemed rushed, like I was in some kind of assembly line.”
Much to her concern, once she got to the breeders home whom she went to with her fiancée, the breeder was very “kind and respectful” and her new puppy Milo, seemed to be very happy.
However, eight months after her purchase, a veterinarian diagnosed Milo with anxiety and prescribed him with fluoxetine, an anti-depressant medication which he was required to take every six hours when needed.
“I was devastated,” she says. “I tried to contact the breeder to try to get some kind of information but I was ignored.”
Milo’s condition began to worsen to the point where he couldn’t be let alone for longer than seven minutes out of the day. If he was alone, he would bark until someone came through the door. Eventually the landlord of Rodriguez apart gave her a request, either she finds a new home for Milo or she would be asked to leave her apartment imminently. She had no choice but to rehome her dog who was eighteen months the day he was forced to leave.
“No one wanted him,” says Rodriguez as she began to cry. “Eventually my daughter’s father agreed to take him in but he only agreed because he knew the only other choice was to bring him to the shelter and he felt bad for him.”
Since Milo’s departure, he went to live with Rodriguez’s ex-boyfriend, but after two months he was forced to leave due to a complaint from his landlord. Today, Milo lives with Cynthia’s ex boyfriend’s cousin in Sunset Park. I reached out to the breeder via Facebook and have not received an response.
The reasons why millions of pets end up in shelters yearly can range from them no longer being wanted by their owners to them running away and having no forms of identification.
However, even though millions of pets wind up in shelters, the main reason why will probably remain unknown. Since most pets lack the ability to speak human words and many are found without the company of their owners. Many former owners either moved and were unable to take their pets with them and others decided that their pet just wasn’t right for them.
For Deborah Ramos, a former cat owner who gave up her pet to a local shelter 12 years ago, the regret and guilt still hangs on her head today.
“I miss Sasha (the cat) everyday, but I just couldn’t love her anymore.”
Ramos who has type two diabetes, high blood sugar and a weak operating heart first purchased Sasha from a local pet shop 18 years ago got her because she wanted support as she was enduring a difficult second pregnancy with her daughter. However, three months after the purchase, it was revealed by a veterinarian prior to her being sprayed that she diagnosed with Dysthymia and anxiety. Due to her mental condition, she was unable to be left alone for longer than 20 minutes and was put on Fluoxetine, an anti-anxiety medication. Although Ramos was able to care for her early on, after six years and four more children, Ramos began to find that taking care of an energetic Sphynx cat with six children was becoming more and more difficult.
“She (Sasha) was scratching my children!” says Ramos. “I would be awake in the middle of the night by at least one of my children’s face covered in blood because she attacked them out of thin air… It was either my children or my pet and I had no choice.”
After six years with Sasha, Ramos decided to relinquish her pet to the local shelter a few blocks from her home. Every day as she catches the bus to go to work, Ramos would turn her head to see the new home that she sent Sasha to.
I reached out to the center (who wanted to remain anonymous) and found that Sasha was never adopted out and was euthanized in 2013.
Regardless of the reasons why many pets live on the streets, the majority of rescue groups do not care about the reasons why they were unwanted, they just want these pets to get the care, shelter and love that they deserve.
People who work at these shelters love animals regardless of what breed they are or what they look like – they are not in it for the money or the possible popularity that can come from it. Every single one of them wishes that their job was not as demanding and that people would be responsible with their pets or choose to not get pets if they know they will be unable to care for them.
One of the shelters that steps in to help former pets in need is Ready For Rescue, a 501c3 non-profit pet rescue shelter that saves cats and dogs from the streets and kill shelters in New York City. Many of the pets they bring in are sick, injured and senior animals and provide these pets with the medical care they deserve while also trying to place them with the right families.
“We’ve had pets tied up to poles who have been starved and turned out to be some of the nicest dogs,” says Doug Halsey, from Ready for Rescue.
While most shelters spend most of their time helping pets recover illnesses, many pet shops spend most of their time hiding the hidden illnesses they come with. Many pets who have been purchased from pet stores have been diagnosed with a raspy cough, rapid diarrhea and listlessness according to the humane society. On the contrary, many rescue groups have been known to be open with possible adopters about pets’ medical history since they have had a huge role in nursing them back to health.
“When you get a pet from a breeder or shop, they might not be as inclined to tell you about a pet’s specific health risks or the health issues of their parents,” Doug says. “When you adopt from a shelter or rescue center, they will be more incline to tell you and show you their medical records and you can know much more about their health health history then if you went to a breeder.”
In result of having a more active role in pets healthcare, many shelters are known to be very selective and careful in who they let adopt their pets, even if their shelters are overpopulated.
According to the Humane Society, approximately $2.5 billion is spent by rescue groups every year on life saving resources such as veterinary care and shelter for homeless pets. While the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) a part in enforcing animal welfare laws, many local governments have historically paid little to no financial or public attention to the funding or care of different shelters around the country.
“There are no resources in place here to suddenly take in hundreds of owned animals” says Mia Lancaster president of Place For Cats rescue center.
Place for Cats is a non profit cat rescue center based in New York City that focuses on the the rescue and adoption of cats across all five boroughs.
“We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the manpower, we don’t have the location space. We don’t have the money. If that were the case we would be taking in 50 animals a week with no money to support them without the human resources to help them prepared for adoption. There’s no paid employee here so we all chip in when we can” says Mia.
For the majority of New York City’s history with stray animals, the typical three step process; Send in animal control groups to catch stray dogs, bring them to the local pound, then “euthanize them.” The process became so common that by the 1970s, it was estimated that over 13.5 million animals were killed in shelters yearly. In 1971, In Los Angeles alone, it was estimated that on average 300 shelter pets were killed per day in the 1970s.
However, there has been a huge culture shift over the past couple of decades including widespread animal activism that has led many shelters to limit the number of euthanasia’s performed yearly. In addition, there has been an influx of shelters created over the past couple of decades that have embraced and enforced no-kill policies and oppose the killing of healthy or treatable animals. Today, the vast majority of euthanizes are carried out by injection only performed on untreatable or aggressive animals who have been deemed too dangerous to put back in society.
But even though the rates of euthanizes on pets has dropped, the legal and financial involvement of the government in the protection of shelters is still at an all-time low.
In January of 2018, the De Blasio administration announced that a city funded animal shelter would be built in the Bronx by 2024. It has been projected to serve enough space for 70 dogs, 140 cats, 30 rabbits and 20 animals from other species maximum. In addition, the city also announced a plan to renovate its existing Brooklyn shelter and planned to expand its current shelters in the borough by 2022. No further updates has been given since the initial announcement in 2018.
The world of pet adoption has become very popular over the past couple of decades due to many shelters promoting adoption rather than purchasing from stores, however there still seems to be a large disconnect from the people and the pets in terms of adoption.
A survey conducted by Best Friends Animal Society of Kanab found that 46 percent of people between the ages of 18 to 34 were more likely to purchase a pet from a store or breeder than consider adoption.
So why is there no consideration for adoption?
For starters, preserving a breed is a very important quality that many potential pet owners consider when getting a pet. Since the beginning of the domesticated animals world, careful select breeding has been something that has been very popular and usually done with a purpose.
“We believe that there are many reputable breeders who do follow best practices in breeding and provide medical care for their litters, just as their are disreputable ones who do not. For pet shops, we can’t comment directly” says Anna from Muddy Paws
Whether it’s for hunting rodents, protecting the farm or simply for emotional support, people have breaded dogs for different purposes for years and the thought of adopting a pet from a shelter that you have little to no history on their breeding or having a pet that’s possibly multiple breeds in one is something that deters many potential pet owners.
“We always encourage dog lovers to adopt because there are so many homeless animals looking for a home! However, we understand that adoption is not the pathway for everyone (for example, if you have a specific need due to allergies or service animal requirement). In any case, we encourage all folks to do their research to ensure they are working with a reputable and responsible organization that thoroughly vets their animals medically and behaviorally prior to adoption placement.” says Abbe from Muddy Paws
Due to the lack of adequate funding for many shelters throughout the country, donations from the general public is direly needed for almost all non profit organizations to continue operation. With so many homeless pets across the world and constant hesitation from people to adopt them, private donations have become the backbone for these places to continue helping the pets in need.
Ready For Rescue does an average of over 110,000 rescues each year and spends an average of $150,000 on care for their animals such as veterinary care, housing, food etc. In addition they are a no kill shelter and are committed to placing pets in the right home with the best owner and adopts all throughout New York State and New Jersey. If you would like to donate to their shelter please visit https://www.readyforrescue.org/donate
Place For Cats houses rescues dozens of stray cats per week in New York City. They have found homes for over 1,000 strays since the organization’s creation in 1990. If you would like to donate to their shelter, please visit http://placeforcats.org/fundraise/
Muddy Paws Rescue is a New York City 501c3 nonprofit dog shelter that helps rescue and adopt dogs to residents in the Tristate area. In addition to rescuing, they hold regular events throughout the year to help spread awareness of animal homelessness and are constantly looking for potential adopters. If you would like to donate to their organization, please visit https://donorbox.org/muddypawsrescuenyc